LS: Bruce Cameron Column November 09, 2008

The hypothetical father

Once, when my son was around 8 years old, he asked whether we could go see a movie (one we had just seen the previous weekend), and I said no, we couldn’t. “If we’re not going to see a movie,” he demanded in anguish, “then why did you have me?”

He was always pretty good at asking questions — like this one, a particular favorite of mine: “Dad,” he asked, “if I were a werewolf, where would I go to the bathroom?”

At dinnertime, my son would leave the table, too full of kinetic energy to do more than briefly touch his bottom to his chair before launching himself off in another direction, like a baseball player rounding first. I’d long given up trying to make him sit still, accepting that in order for him to make it through a meal he’d have to hang from the banister, throw himself on the floor and stand on his head on the couch. It was during these nightly gymnastics that he would hit me with what politicians call “hypotheticals.”

“Dad?”

“Son, please stop jumping on the couch. Come over here, and do another drive-by on your mashed potatoes.”

“Dad? If we were sitting at the picnic table?”

“Yes?”

“And there was a flood? So we had to climb on the picnic table and float out to sea?”

“Sure, could happen.”

“And then one day when we were sitting on the picnic table in the ocean a big sea turtle swam up and climbed up to be with us?”

“Yes?”

“Could I keep it?”

“Sure.”

He would fix me with prosecutorial eyes. “Then why can’t I have a gerbil?”

As is often true with boys, he was fascinated with scenarios involving machine guns, rockets and catapults — all items he apparently believed I owned but was keeping hidden until he was old enough to play with them.

“Dad, if someone fired a rocket at our house? Could we take a catapult and fly up and shoot the rocket with machine guns?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“If a goldfish were big enough, could it bite off your finger?”

“I guess so.”

“Where does the devil play cards?”

“What?”

“If a man came in here with a gun and said we didn’t have to clean the garage this weekend, what would you say?”

This was a familiar theme, and I knew where it was going. If I said I’d catapult the man into the next yard, he’d reply the guy was too heavy for a catapult. The assailant would be similarly invulnerable to machine guns, rocket fire and goldfish attacks.

Cutting off all retreat, my son would force me to admit that even with a masked man holding a gun to the family’s collective heads, I’d still insist on cleaning the garage that weekend, a chore everyone loathed (including me).

“You love the garage so much you wouldn’t even care if I was dead!” my son would accuse bitterly.

“That’s not true.”

“Dad? If I were dead because you made us clean the garage?”

“Yes?”

“Would you bury me in the backyard?”

“Sure.”

“Like Scooter?”

Scooter was a rabbit we adopted against all common sense. She lived a long and productive life — “productive” in this case meaning she must have manufactured several hundred pounds of rabbit poop, all of which was carefully cleaned up by me, the one person in the family who had vehemently voted against Scooter from the beginning.

When Scooter died, we had a nice funeral in the backyard, an event that must have made quite an impression on my dog, because he snuck out later and dug Scooter up.

By the time the dog had finished with it, Scooter was a flat piece of fur, lying on a rock in the sun as if Ted Danson were airing out his toupee. Clearly my son was worried this might happen to him.

I told him no, I wouldn’t let the dog dig him up. And I continued to answer his hypotheticals as best I could, believing that despite their outlandish nature, they were helping him form an understanding of his world.

Truthfully, I enjoyed it, and wouldn’t have stopped, not even if a man came in with a gun ...


To write Bruce Cameron, visit his Website at http://www.wbrucecameron.com.


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